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Activist sponsors forum on referendum

For any voters who have questions about the upcoming referendum on a tax to support East Lake library and recreation programs, there will be a public forum Wednesday night to provide answers. This forum, though, is unlike any other. This forum is not sponsored by any organization, but by one man: Pat Imperato, an East Lake resident.

"This is a meeting of neighbors," Imperato said Monday.

A longtime community activist who bills himself as a government consultant, Imperato mounted a brief campaign for Congress this year against U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor. The 83-year-old Imperato dropped out after a month because his family talked him out of running.

His latest crusade is the library and recreation referendum, which is on the ballot Nov. 6. After learning the Citizens Action League, an East Lake civic group, had no plans to sponsor a forum before the election, Imperato decided to do it himself.

"They're sort of laying back and staying neutral, and they shouldn't be that way," Imperato said.

Citizens Action League President Zora Swanson could not be reached for comment Monday.

Imperato's forum will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, 1555 Windmill Pointe Road. Representatives from the Friends of East Lake Tarpon Library/Rec, which spearheaded the drive to put the referendum on the November ballot, will present reasons to vote for the new taxes. Imperato said opponents also will attend.

Imperato has not taken a position for or against the referendum. He is trying to cast himself in the role of peacemaker.

"There have been some harsh words and feelings," he said. "There is a dissension, but I think most of it is from misunderstanding."

East Lake voters must decide whether to tax themselves to provide their rapidly growing area with library and recreation programs.

Currently the more than 16,000 people living east of Lake Tarpon have no public library of their own. Their only public recreation area, the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Complex, is run by volunteers and financed by donations.

East Lake property owners, like property owners throughout Pinellas County, pay a tax to support the countywide library cooperative. If the referendum passes, though, the new taxes would replace that countywide tax, according to County Attorney Susan Churuti.

But East Lake residents still will be members of the countywide cooperative if the referendum passes, said Bernadette Storck, administrator of the cooperative.

The County Commission would appoint an 11-member board to administer the money raised by the new taxes. Some opponents of the new tax have questioned the wisdom of turning tax money over to a group of people who didn't stand for election.

Others have questioned how quickly the tax could raise enough money to build a library. But proponents of the tax have been negotiating to use East Lake High School's library, as a way to get started quickly.

Supporters contend that as a growing area, East Lake needs its own tax-supported library and recreation programs close by. But opponents say facilities in Palm Harbor, Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs are close enough.

East Lake voters turned down a similar proposal two years ago.